By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor
Lawmakers in the House voted this week to pass a bill that could eliminate the required permit to carry a concealed firearm in Louisiana.
House members voted 64-27 to approve House Bill 37, sponsored by Rep. Danny McCormick, R-Oil City, to allow anyone over age 21 who is currently eligible to openly carry a firearm to also carry a firearm concealed without a permit, commonly known as constitutional carry.
“Louisiana is already an open carry state which allows law-abiding citizens to carry their firearm without a mandatory training,” McCormick said during debate on the bill Wednesday. “Allowing those same law-abiding men and women to wear a jacket in cold weather or place their firearm in a purse while wearing a dress is not going to cause chaos.
“This bill would not allow anyone to carry a concealed weapon unless they are already able to legally open carry,” he said.
Rep. Charles Owen, R-Rosepine, offered a failed amendment to reduce the age for constitutional carry to 18, the initial age included in the bill.
“When you’re 18-years-old you can be charged with a felony. When you’re 18-years-old, you can vote,” he said. “I believe in equal treatment under the law.”
Several lawmakers objected to lowering the age, pointing out the issue was discussed in the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice, where members voted 8-5 to increase the age to 21.
Rep. Bryan Fontenot, R-Thibodaux, noted that the Legislature overwhelming supported constitutional carry legislation during the last legislative session that was set at age 21, and highlighted federal firearms laws that restrict purchases to the same age.
“The federal law says you must be 21 years of age to purchase … a pistol or to buy ammunition,” he said. “There are 26 states, and I hope Louisiana becomes the 27th state, to offer constitutional carry, but 76% of those states that allow constitutional carry say that you must be 21 years of age.”
Fontenot also offered an amendment to task state police with providing an optional 60-minute online training course for firearms, which was approved by a vote of 70-28, despite objections from McCormick.
Fontenot’s amendment was later replaced with language from a pending bill sponsored by Rep. Blake Miguez, R-Erath, that requires state police to adopt an optional two-hour online course on firearm safety — broken down into eight video segments — that includes specific topics, such as handgun basics, firearm free zones, use of deadly force, interaction with law enforcement, conflict resolution, accident and unauthorized access prevention and other topics.
The roughly $20,000 cost to create the online course would come from about $1 million in profits state police collect from processing concealed carry permits, Miguez said.
HB 37 does not eliminate Louisiana’s concealed carry permit, preserving reciprocity with other states.
The Louisiana Association of Chiefs of Police, Louisiana Council of Catholic Bishops, Louisiana Municipal Association, Louisiana Progress Action and Moms Demand Action Louisiana opposed HB 37, while the Louisiana Shooting Association and numerous gun rights activists supported the measure in committee.
Last year, the Department of Public Safety issued over 20,000 original five-year concealed handgun permits, over 7,000 lifetime permits and renewed 12,000 permits, for a total of 39,351, Louisiana State Police Col. Lamar Davis told the criminal justice committee last week.
“During that same period the department denied 1,438 permits, revoked 37 permits, and suspended 255 permits,” Davis said.
Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoed similar legislation, Senate Bill 118, last session. An effort to override the veto failed in the Senate.